File this under ‘I’m So Involved In Fat Acceptance That I Forget How Daft The Rest Of The World Is’.
Anne Milton MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Public Health in the Conservative-Liberal Democrat British government, stated that health care workers should use the word ‘fat’ rather than ‘obese’ in order to encourage people to lose weight. Apparently, people distance themselves from the term ‘obese’ whereas labeling people as ‘fat’ would encourage “personal responsibility”. Professor Steve Field, of the Royal College of GPs agreed with the statement, saying “The term obese medicalises the state … It makes it a third person issue. We need to sometimes be more brutal and honest.”
The National Obesity Forum, however, criticised Ms Milton’s views. Spokesperson Tam Fry stated, “Being obese is an internationally accepted medical definition where one’s weight is so extreme that there is a risk of comorbidity of stroke, diabetes type two [and] heart disease. Obesity is a wake-up call to do something about weight. It’s not just being fat.”
There is so much facepalm in this story but I will distill it into five main points:
1. Fat Acceptance 101: Health is not determined by weight.
While fat is correlated with diseases such as Type II diabetes and heart disease, studies have not shown that fat actually causes these conditions. Not to mention it’s pointless to encourage weight loss in patients as diets don’t work. Of course doctors should be encouraging healthy lifestyles in their patients, but they should not be framing this discussion around weight.
2. Shame doesn’t help anyone.
If shame helped people lose weight, there wouldn’t be a single fat person in the Western world.
3. We don’t need to give health care professionals permission to act like arseholes
According to Ms Milton, too many National Health Service staff were reluctant to use the term ‘fat’ for fear of offending their patients. I doubt this, as research has shown anti-fat bias in health care professionals (see here and here), Yale’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity explicitly states that “Weight Bias is common in health care settings” and First, Do No Harm is filled with horror stories of the poor treatment fat patients have experienced from health care professionals.
Though Ms Milton was speaking in a personal capacity, her position in the British government means that her words can be taken as institutional permission for doctors to disrespect their patients.
4. Fat people know they are fat
5. ‘Fat’ should be used instead of ‘obese’
I actually agree with Anne Milton on the topic of fat v obese, but not for the reasons she listed. I think ‘overweight’, ‘underweight’ and ‘obese’ are unnecessary terms that should be eradicated because the body mass index is a flawed concept.
‘Fat’ has become a pejorative term and now has so many negative attributes connected to it – lazy, gluttonous, smelly, inferior, unattractive – when it is just an adjective. I think we should be using it more often because only then can it become normalised. The word ‘fat’ need not be “brutal”. It certainly shouldn’t be a trigger for so-called “personal responsibility”. It’s just three little letters that tell you as much about me as my biracial blood, my short-sightedness and my curly hair.